When I joined FEI in 2013, I’d never heard of an employee assistance program (EAP). Now it’s my job to make sure others not only know what an EAP is but what it does—and can do.

We’ve seen an uptick in generative mental health conversations the past few years. Often attributed to the workplace demands of Millennial employees, I believe it speaks to a larger desire to de-stigmatize mental health challenges and establish support for mental, emotional and behavioral needs as a workplace necessity.

Created in the 1930s to combat alcohol dependency in the workforce, EAPs have evolved to address everything from workplace stress and performance management to work-life balance and wellness. They offer robust programs and services that ensure employees are healthy in both body and mind.

Yet, EAPs are frequently seen as a simple counseling benefit—an employee perk that ranks below health, vision and dental and often finds itself on the budgetary chopping block.

Maintaining an open dialogue about the effects of untreated mental health challenges or unaddressed work-life stressors on employee productivity, engagement and resilience underscores the importance of providing an EAP benefit. But communicating the need for EAPs isn’t just my job; it’s a group effort.

I explain what an EAP is, what it provides and how employees can benefit from the services. Our FEI account managers partner with you to give a more in-depth overview of our services based on your individual needs as an organization. Your human resources representatives then take what we’ve provided and share with employees as well as educate supervisors on how to refer a struggling or overwhelmed team member to the program. Your employees, in turn, receive the assistance they need to perform at their best—whether that’s counseling, help with finding child or elder care, or support with legal or financial concerns.

See? Group effort.

I realize there’s a lot to unpack in that explanation, so here are three quick takeaways to help you speak the language of an EAP:

  1. It’s okay—and normal—to talk about mental health. We’ve been slowly chipping away at the stigma surrounding mental health challenges, but taboos remain. Just think of it this way: Talking about depression is no different than discussing hypertension. Normalizing mental health brings us closer to increased EAP utilization.
  2. Communication tools are your friends. While a great EAP provider will deliver communication resources like posters, flyers, handouts, newsletters, etc. to help facilitate the conversation around not only an EAP but mental health needs and resources, we rely on your organization to ensure those resources are being disseminated and seen by employees where they work.
  3. You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers. Partnering with an EAP provider grants access to experts trained in helping you navigate the most complex requests for assistance. As the adage goes, “there are no dumb questions.” If you need help connecting or explaining a benefit to an employee, let us know!

The benefit of an EAP still isn’t what I would consider common knowledge, but it should be. If we make a concerted effort to share the importance of supporting mental, emotional and behavioral health and well-being—and link that importance to the overall success of our organizations—EAPs will be as necessary an employee benefit as any other.